The FAA has announced that Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker will leave the agency at the end of June, two years before his term as Chief NextGen Officer (CNO) expires in 2018.
“Mike has been an invaluable partner in all this agency has accomplished over the last three years,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “His industry experience and business focus were invaluable in leading the deployment of NextGen, integrating drones into the airspace, and working with the general aviation community to make flying safer and more accessible.”
Whitaker took the position – which requires Senate approval – in 2013. Whitaker – a veteran of the commercial airline industry – will leave a gap at the FAA. The position of CNO was created as part of the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act, considered as an important part of FAA reformation. Whitaker was the first to be appointed to the position; his next in command -the Assistant Administrator for NextGen (ANG) – has gone through three changes in five years, leaving a lack of continuity in NextGen leadership. The first ANG, Victoria Cox, stayed for less than a year; she was followed by Major General Edward Bolton Jr. and finally by Jim Eck.
The Obama administration would have to find a well-qualified successor who meets all of the stakeholders’ requirements for experience – and convince them that it’s worth moving from what would undoubtedly be a leadership position somewhere else at the very end of the President’s term. The five year position would then have to be voted on by the Republican Senate; creating a situation like that of President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
As the FAA struggles to make progress on the NextGen agenda, including drone integration, gaps in leadership – especially in an election year – can only slow things down further.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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